Thomas Merton

Thomas
Merton
1915
1968

French-born Anglo-American Catholic Writer, Poet, Trappist Monk and Social Activist

Author Quotes

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

One of the effects of original sin is an instinctive prejudice in favor of our own selfish desires. We see things as they are not, because we see them centered on ourselves. Fear, anxiety, greed, ambition and our hopeless need for pleasure all distort the image of reality that is reflected in our minds. Grace does not completely correct this distortion all at once: but it gives us a means of recognizing and allowing for it. And it tells us what we must do to correct it. Sincerity must be bought at a price: the humility to recognize our innumerable errors, and fidelity in tirelessly setting them right.

Peace cannot be built on exclusivism, absolutism, and intolerance. But neither can it be built on vague liberal slogans and pious programs gestated in the smoke of confabulation. There can be no peace on earth without the kind of inner change that brings man back to his right mind. p. 31

Solitude is a way to defend the spirit against the murderous din of our materialism.

The Bible is not primarily a written or printed text to be scrutinized in private, in a scholar's study or a contemplative cell. It is a body of oral messages, announcements, prophecies, promulgations, recitals, histories, songs of praise, lamentations, etc., which are meant either to be uttered or at least read aloud, or chanted, or sung, or recited in a community convoked for the purpose of a living celebration.

The geographical pilgrimage is the symbolic acting out an inner journey. The inner journey is the interpolation of the meanings and signs of the outer pilgrimage. One can have one without the other. It is best to have both.

In technological society, in which the means of communication and signification have become fabulously versatile, and are at the point of an even more prolific development, thanks to the computer with its inexhaustible memory and its capacity for immediate absorption and organization of facts, the very nature and use of communication itself becomes unconsciously symbolic. Though he now has the capacity to communicate anything, anywhere, instantly, man finds himself with nothing to say. Not that there are not many things he could communicate, or should attempt to communicate. He should, for instance, be able to meet with his fellow man and discuss ways of building a peaceful world. He is incapable of this kind of confrontation. Instead of this, he has intercontinental ballistic missiles which can deliver nuclear death to tens of millions of people in a few moments. This is the most sophisticated message modern man has, apparently, to convey to his fellow man. It is, of course, a message about himself, his alienation from himself, and his inability to come to terms with life.

It is almost impossible to overestimate the value of true humility and its power in the spiritual life. For the beginning of humility is the beginning of blessedness and the consummation of humility is the perfection of all joy. Humility contains in itself the answer to all the great problems of the life of the soul. It is the only key to faith, with which the spiritual life begins: for faith and humility are inseparable. In perfect humility all selfishness disappears and your soul no longer lives for itself or in itself for God: and it is lost and submerged in Him and transformed into Him.

It is true that we are called to create a better world. But we are first of all called to a more immediate and exalted task: that of creating our own lives. In doing this, we act as co-workers with God. We take our place in the great work of mankind, since in effect the creation of our own destiny, in God, is impossible in pure isolation.

Life is not a matter of getting something out of everything.

Love, then, is a transformative power of almost mystical intensity which endows the lovers with qualities and capacities they never dreamed they could possess. Where do these qualities come from? From the enhancement of life itself, deepened, intensified, elevated, strengthened, and spiritualized by love. Love is not only a special way of being alive, it is the perfection of life. He who loves is more alive and more real than he was when he did not love.

My opinion is that it is a very extraordinary thing for anyone to be upset by such a topic. Why should anyone be shattered by the thought of hell? It is not compulsory for anyone to go there. Those who do, do so by their own choice, and against the will of God, and they can only get into hell by defying and resisting all the work of Providence and grace. It is their own will that takes them there, not God's. In damning them He is only ratifying their own decision--a decision which He has left entirely to their own choice. Nor will He ever hold our weakness alone responsible for our damnation. Our weakness should not terrify us: it is the source of our strength. Power is made perfect in infirmity, and our very helplessness is all the more potent a claim on that Divine Mercy Who calls to Himself the poor, the little ones, the heavily burdened.

One of the first things to learn if you want to be a contemplative is to mind your own business. Nothing is more suspicious, in a man who seems holy, than an impatient desire to reform other men.

Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.

Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present you will never find it.

The biggest human temptation is… to settle for too little. The things I thought were so important -- because of the effort I put into them -- have turned out to be of small value. And the things I never thought about, the things I was never able to either to measure or to expect, were the things that mattered.

In the end, it's the reality of personal relationships that save everything.

It is both dangerous and easy to hate man as he is because he is not what he ought to be. If we do not first respect what he is we will never suffer him to become what he ought to be: In our impatience we do away with him altogether.

It is true that when I came to this monastery where I am, I came in revolt against the meaningless confusion of a life in which there was so much activity, so much movement, so much useless talk, so much superficial and needless stimulation, that I could not remember who I was. But the fact remains that my flight from this world is not a reproach to you who remain in the world, and I have no right to repudiate the world in a purely negative faction, because if I do that my flight will have taken me not to truth and to God but to a private, though doubtless pious, illusion.

Life is stronger than the death instinct and love is stronger than hate.

Man is like an alcoholic who knows that drink will destroy him but who always has a reason for drinking. So with war.

My own personal task is not simply that of poet and writer (still less commentator, pseudo-prophet); it is basically to praise God out of an inner center of silence, gratitude, and ‘awareness.’ This can be realized in a life that apparently accomplishes nothing. Without centering on accomplishment or non-accomplishment, my task is simply the breathing of this gratitude from day to day, in simplicity, and for the rest turning my hand to whatever comes, work being part of praise, whether splitting logs or writing poems, or best of all simple notes.

One of the most important-and most neglected-elements in the beginning of the interior life is the ability to respond to reality, to see the value and the beauty in ordinary things, to come alive to the splendor that is all around us.

Peace is not, after all, something you work for, or “fight for.” It is indeed “fighting for peace” that starts all the wars.

Someone will say: “You worry about birds. Why not worry about people?” I worry about both birds and people. We are in the world and part of it, and we are destroying everything because we are destroying ourselves spiritually, morally, and in every way. It is all part of the same sickness, it all hangs together.

Author Picture
First Name
Thomas
Last Name
Merton
Birth Date
1915
Death Date
1968
Bio

French-born Anglo-American Catholic Writer, Poet, Trappist Monk and Social Activist